Senator Inouye Awards Largest Transit Grant to Hawaii County

Media Release:

U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye presented a check for $7.2 million to the County of Hawai’i for seven new 45-passenger buses and major improvements to the county’s Mass Transit Agency facilities on Saturday, October 16, 2010.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grants represent the largest amount ever provided to a Neighbor Island for public transportation improvement projects.

Hawai’i County Mayor Billy Kenoi and Mass Transit Agency Director Tom Brown accepted the check from Senator Inouye in a brief ceremony outside the County building at 25 Aupuni Street , Hilo .


Fourth District County Councilman Dennis “Fresh” Onishi receives a grant check for $7.2 million on behalf of the County of Hawai‘i from U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye to fund mass transit improvements.


Also attending were Hawai’i Island Council members Guy Enriques (6th District), Emily Naeole -Beason (5th District) and Dennis “Fresh” Onishi (4th District).


Sixth District Councilman Guy Enriques accepting a grant check for $7.2 million on behalf of the County of Hawai ‘i from U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye to fund mass transit improvements.


Council members Enriques and Naeole-Beason praised Senator Inouye for his efforts to improve transportation for the residents of their rural districts. ” In Ka‘u we come the longest way to drive to Kona and Hilo . We are going to need these buses desperately. I thank-you, this is a dream come true for Ka‘u.” said Councilman Enriques. “This shows that our County’s efforts to work in partnership and collaboration with our Congressional delegation and federal agencies provide invaluable services and benefits to our community.”


Fifth District Councilwoman Emily Naeole -Beason accepting a grant check for $7.2 million on behalf of the County of Hawai‘i from U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye to fund mass transit improvements.


Senator Inouye said the safe and timely transportation of our residents and visitors is critical to maintaining a healthy economy. “These funds will help people on the Big Island get to and from work while reducing traffic congestion and limiting the impact fossil fuels have on the environment.”

A $5 million State of Good Repair Grant from FTA, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, includes $4 million for new administration offices and base yard for the County’s Mass Transit Agency in Hilo .

The new County mass transit offices will provide easy access to a central location where the public can visit or call to obtain transit services and information. The base yard will enable the county to better house and maintain the transit agency’s growing fleet of buses.

The State of Good Repair Grant also includes $1 million for the purchase of three new 45-passenger buses with wheelchair access, bicycle racks and passenger security features that will continue to improve the County’s free, island-wide bus services for island residents.

An additional $2.2 million federal earmark from the FTA’s transit capital investment program will be used to purchase four additional new 45-passenger buses for the County’s transportation fleet. The grant will also used to purchase bus stop and bus shelter materials.

“This $7.2 million grant is a huge appropriation for our County and recognizes our efforts at building and enhancing the largest transportation system in the State of Hawai’i ,” said Mayor Kenoi. “We are very grateful for the help provided by our senior Senator Inouye and his staff in obtaining this valuable assistance for our residents.”

The county’s free, island-wide bus system is rapidly growing. In Fiscal Year 2009-2010, 1.1 million passengers boarded Hawai’i Island’s Hele-On buses, an 18 percent increase from the previous year.

“The new buses and the administrative and base yard improvements will have a tremendous positive impact on our mass transit system, allowing more people to use the system and to help us address increasing demand for our services,” said Tom Brown, Mass Transit Agency director.

“The growing demands of our residents traveling between East and West Hawai’i, connecting the Ka`u and Ocean View districts with Hilo and Kona, North Kohala and Kona, and between upper and lower Puna to Hilo, will be addressed with the new buses,” Brown said.

“With the generous support from Senator Inouye,” said Mayor Kenoi, “we are continuing to follow through on our commitment to expand our transit system.”

The Bus Will Probably Start Charging Soon

In October, I asked the transportation director how long the buses would be free:

…We had the opportunity to ask questions and I asked how long the buses would remain free.  And the Counties reply was that the free rides were funded until the end of 2009. He didn’t expand on anything past that…

Today’s Hawaii Tribune, Jason Armstrong reports:

The Finance Committee also is scheduled to take up a proposal to charge passengers $1 apiece to ride the county’s free Hele-On buses.

Instituting the one-way fare would raise $700,000 a year, Hamakua Councilman Dominic Yagong recently told the Tribune-Herald in floating the idea

Between the Transportation director and the County Council… to me it seems like it’s going to be a no-brainer for them.

However, I see this backfiring big time!

Many people that ride the bus, well at least in Puna, ride it as a means to get basic services that they don’t have.  Many folks simply don’t have a $1.00 at times here in this district and are riding the free bus… just to pick up free food or other basic necessities.

In case people missed it

Emily Naeole was able to divert some of the Geothermal Funds to get another route through the areas affected by the geothermal plant.

I say we should keep the buses free! When the transportation director was initially talking about this… the cost of gas was skyrocketing. It has since stabilized.

By the way… anyone seen the Maui Buses:


Also curious about how many people know about this little program the county is running:

…In addition, the Transit Agency offers a Shared Ride Taxi program which provides door to door transportation for as little as $2.00 within the urbanized area of Hilo.

And whatever happened to those cute little sampans that were running around Hilo?